Gulf of St. Lawrence
Written late on the night of March 31
Tonight the Farley Mowat is locked into the ice. We must go where the ice takes us and it has moved us some fifty miles from the point close to the Magdalen Islands where we were when the storm moved in. The ice pressure continues to build.
Of the nearly one hundred sealing ships that were in the ice on March 29th, only about 30 vessels remain. Two have sunk, others have been abandoned and others have been damaged, their hulls being squeezed by the increasing pressure. Most have returned to port.
One Newfoundland sealer was overheard to say on the radio, “These seals ain’t worth this trouble b’ye.”
The radio was alive with desperate sealers calling for help from the Coast Guard.
But one Coast Guard ice-breaker was busy elsewhere. They dropped all their other activities to respond to a complaint from the Newfoundland sealer Brady Mariner that some Sea Shepherd crew were taking pictures of their activities.
At 1330 Hours, 18 crew from the Farley Mowat had crossed a mile of ice to witness and photograph sealers from the Brady Mariner. Eight sealers came towards them armed with hak-a-pics and began to shout and swear at them. Within minutes the sealers became violent and attacked the Sea Shepherd crew. 19-years old Lisa Moises, from Germany, was slapped in the face and punched in the stomach by one burly sealer.
Another attacked photographer Ian Robichaud with a hak-a-pik, striking his camera and hitting him in the side of the head. Adrian Haley was struck in the face. Jonathan Batchlor was punched in the mouth. Jonny Vasic was hit in the side of the head with a club. Petite Lisa Shalom of Montreal was struck by a sealer as she took pictures of the assault on her crewmates. When another sealer swung his hak-a-pik to strike Jonny Vasic’s camera, Dr. Jerry Vlasak, (a surgeon from Los Angeles), jumped in his way and took the blow across the face.
The crew radioed back to Captain Paul Watson that they had been attacked. Captain Watson called the Coast Guard Icebreaker Amundsen and requested that the Mounted Police officers on Board investigate the assault. They did not reply.
Instead, a helicopter was dispatched to arrest the Sea Shepherd crew on the ice. Of the 18 who left to document the sealers, only seven were able to return. They barely made it. The Amundsen was charging through the ice to cut off their path of retreat to the Farley Mowat. Lisa Moises and Ian Robichaud barely made it back to the Farley Mowat. They watched as the massive red hull of the Coast Guard Icebreaker Amundsen bore quickly down on them in an attempt to cut them off. They could see chunks of ice flying out from the bow of the ice breaker but they kept focused on the Farley Mowat and managed to make it across.
Behind them Jonny Vasic and Jon Batchelor raced to cross the ice before the Amundsen could cut them off. Jonny saw the hull looming above him and felt the ice tremble as a jagged cut slithered before the bow and opened up. He could see the dark black water widening as he jumped and made it across, relieved to see that Jon Batchelor had done the same. Both of them raced towards the Farley Mowat.
Behind them Alex Cornelissen and Lisa Shalom were not so lucky. They were cut off and unable to cross the treacherous lead that the Amundsen had opened up. They saw helicopters approaching and police officers debarking the ice-breaker, their hands on their guns approaching them.
The eleven captured were manhandled into helicopters and taken to the Amundsen and charged.
The Amundsen then came towards the Farley Mowat in an intimidating manner and stopped only a few hundred feet off the starboard side of Farley Mowat for over an hour. No one on the Amundsen said anything or would provide information on the crew they had taken into custody.
Captain Watson spoke with the Mounted Police in Charlottetown and officially requested an investigation into the assault charges. The entire assault was documented on the crews’ video cameras.
The fate of the eleven arrested crew is uncertain. They have all vowed to refuse bail and to refuse food. The eleven represent five different nationalitie: Dr. Jerry Vlasak, Colin Biroc and Andre Casanave of California; Megan Southern and Ian Fritz of Arizona; Ryan Goyette of Rhode Island; Matt Schwartz of Texas; Lisa Shalom of Montreal, Quebec; Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands, Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden; and Laura Dakin, an Australian citizen and resident of Bermuda.
Assaulted with a deadly weapon, injured, and then arrested, and all this because they attempted to take a picture of a sealer.
You can almost smell the bananas growing in Canada these days. What kind of a democracy makes it a crime to take a photograph or shoot film of a wildlife slaughter? What kind of democracy responds to an assault by arresting the victim? What kind of nation prides itself in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of baby animals? What kind of government demands that permits be picked up in the one place where the applicants will be assaulted and where there is a history of violent assaults against them? What kind of nation could irresponsibly send ill-equipped vessels into treacherous ice conditions so that seals can be slaughtered?
The chaos that has erupted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this week – the sinking of sealing vessels, the numerous distress calls, the assaults, and the arrests illustrate yet once again that the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans is an incompetent bureaucracy. It is the same incompetence that led to the collapse of the cod fishery, the same incompetence that led to charges of dumping waste by DFO vessels in Halifax harbor, and the same incompetence that is mismanaging and threatening the harp and hood seal populations.
The DFO officers have turned a blind eye to the cruelty and the violations by sealers for decades. They have fixated on protecting the killers from view of the world and they have demonstrated that they have lost all sense of objectivity and balance in their approach to ocean resource issues.
Fourteen crew remain on the Farley Mowat. Eleven are being held prisoner on the Amundsen. The seal slaughter has ended it’s third day in the Gulf. Tomorrow morning will be the fourth day of this circus of blood, gore, and violence by the arrogantly ignorant. Yet we are still here the guardians and defenders of the seals. Here we will remain until our ship is sunk or driven out or we are captured or die out here on the ice doing what we came here to do to be shepherds to these young and beautiful creatures the harp seals.
The Sea Shepherd crewmembers who were arrested were released two days later. Sea Shepherd Advisory Board Member Bob Talbot arrived in one of two helicopters chartered by the Humane Society of the United States the next day and retrieved footage of the assault.
The sealers who assaulted the crew were from the Brady Mariner, a Newfoundland fishing vessel built in 1988 with the official number of 0810609 and registered in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The vessel was formally known as the Fundy Leader. The owner is a man named Rendell Genge (wife, Bertha) and his address is P.O. Box 65, Anchor Point, Newfoundland, Canada A0K 1A0 and telephone 709-456-2654. The video sent to the Mounted Police vividly illustrates the hostility and aggressiveness of the sealers in their attack on the Farley Mowat crew.
The crew who were assaulted have requested that charges be laid against the sealers who attacked them. The Mounties are investigating the incident and Bob Talbot will be delivering video of the assault to the Mounted Police headquarters in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Currently the ship is heading toward Labrador.